There has been some discussion recently about what it means to play a role in an RPG. Is it just making decisions about a unit like in a war game, or does it involve trying to get inside the head of an imaginary character? My general take is that it can be either depending on the player, but that the weight of that role playing is in setting interaction and the notoriety that a character builds up within the game.
A character’s personality is created based on what they actually do. It’s all well and good to write “coward” on the sheet, but if the character tends to charge into battle, then the actual personality of that character is foolhardy or impetuous, not cowardly, and this arises out of actual play.
Through their actions, characters create a reputation. This is also part of their personality, and will affect social interactions. Charisma can help a bit (that is the modification to the reaction roll), but if you are Mao Zedong or Steve Jobs or Genghis Khan your actions speak louder than your charisma.
Basically, this is another way of rephrasing the novelist’s dictum of show, don’t tell or the aphorism that actions speak louder than words. You don’t need to speak in a funny voice or make up backstory motivations to play in character, you need to engage with the setting and show how your character is. If this means occasionally acting against the incentive system of the game, it is exactly that counteraction that gives the role playing weight (just like altruism is not actually altruism if you are paid for it).
Aside: whenever I publish something here, I usually also share it on Google Plus. This post is a slightly edited version of a comment on the G+ thread associated with my recent post on 5E energy drain (you will need to be in my G+ circles to see the G+ thread). At the time of this writing, that G+ thread has 124 comments, in comparison to the six on my blogger post. This shows the level of interaction about RPGs going on over at Google Plus right now, and how the social networking model decreases the friction of interaction.